Simple Identity



Simple Identity is a video and sound installation designed for continuous exhibition in gallery space. The theme of the work is the multiple and vexing challenges of identity, authenticity, and voice. The raw material includes personal photographs taken over a twenty-year period, including times of transition during gender reassignment; plus invented images meant to suggest quasisurgical acts of benign and/or malignant intrusion into the body. These are presented in the ironic mode, and tend to deconstruct themselves as they go along by revealing that they do not involve areas of the body which their presence might initially imply.

The work consists of nested image and sound loops. The image loop is eight minutes long; the sound loop is six minutes twenty-eight seconds long, so the two repeat in synchronism once in approximately forty-two hours.

Because I intended it to serve several purposes, one of which was to demonstrate to an actlab class that elaborate image distortion effects did not necessarily require expensive software or hardware, the video portion of the piece was entirely created and edited in camera. I used LCD laptop screens as ad hoc image processors, mixing still photographs pasted to the screens with multiply layered images produced by video feedback. The effect of solarized layers is produced by selectively saturating the Q (hue) information in the video chain. Colored gels help produce certain effects, but most are generated by overload and distortion in the video circuitry caused by multiple feedback and by taking advantage of the limited capabilities of the laptop's screen and its graphics hardware by deliberately exceeding their working parameters, thus causing them to do strange things.

The sound is meant to be played at a low level, not intrusively but on a system with good bass response, and is designed for a full surround (5.1) listening space. The loops were created and mixed using simple, open source recording software. The main vocal theme is taken from transcriptions of conversations between doctors and patients. Its entry and reentry are signalled by the phrase "When did you first notice the pain". The secondary vocal themes are taken from conversations describing real and fantasy situations involving abuse. I am indebted to Joanna Ingalls' installation piece in one of the early actlab classes and her thorough description of its gestation and construction which percolated around in my mind for many years and finally informed this work.

The multiple audio layers are quite deep, and provide a tapestry meant to be experienced without paying direct attention. As ground for all these layers, there are two continuous sounds. One is a bass drone produced by a simple MIDI synthesizer present in nearly all sound hardware. The other is an electronic noise which entered the work unbidden, but happened to fit into the mix perfectly. After a good deal of poking around, I traced it to a defective hard drive which was emitting electrical interference each time it performed a seek to track zero. I recorded and looped it, and, if you know what you are listening for, it's quite audible as a high-pitched percussive sound in the final mix.

For a QuickTime movie of a section of Simple Identity, click here.

Note that in most gallery shows the work is projected onto a wall or screen in very large format or with multiple projectors and screens, and viewing it on a computer in 320x240 pixel quicktime grossly distorts the way I intend it to be experienced. But better a taste than nothing, maybe.